One of the mysteries of the English language finally explained.
In North American Indian usage: a settler or soldier of European origin or descent; specifically (now historical) a Virginian or American. Later also more generally: a white person.
Mid 18th century; earliest use found in Christopher Gist (c1705–1759), explorer, surveyor, and Indian agent. From big + knife, after Mohawk a’share’koówa, a name given to Francis Howard colonial governor of Virginia, at a conference with the Iroquois at Albany on 13 July 1684; the Mohawk name, lit. ‘big knife’, arose from reinterpretation of the surname Howard as showing Dutch houwer cutlass.
Big Knife/ˈbɪɡ knʌɪf/
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